Are Leaders Born or Made? – A Timeless Debate

a debate as timeless as the age-old controversy about the chicken and
the egg. One school of thought proposes leaders are born that way –
naturally intelligent, strategic, visionary and charismatic, able to
articulate a plan and rally their teams around it. Others believe
that leaders are made – needing ongoing experience, training,
development and coaching/mentoring.

then, what “does it take” to be an effective leader; and are
leaders “born” or “made?”
We asked 4 sector leaders to share their thoughts


simple terms, Leadership qualities need to be inborn as well as
learned and nurtured. The inherent component refers to the IQ of the
person and his/her ability to comprehend problems. The acquired
components refer to the educational environment in which the person
grows up, the exposure to different situations and the past
experience of outcome following the adoption of one of the possible
management strategies. This information has to be imbibed, insight
developed and then imparted to others in a manner that can be
understood by them. Reputation as a leader also takes time to be
developed and, once a tipping point is reached, a positive feedback
cycle ensures. Leaders can give, can take or do a mixture of both.
The most successful leaders are those that give – a quality that is
rare in today’s world.

Purvish M. Parikh‎, Member of Board of Studies, Maharashtra
University of Health Sciences and Director of Precision Oncology,
Asian Cancer Institute.

development sector has what I call ’cause leaders’- individuals
driven passionately by a cause- where the drive may arise from a
family event or an external incidence. Such individuals are able to
devote an extraordinary amount of time and dedicate themselves to the
cause. Generally speaking they tend to have a magnetic ability to
command a loyal group of followers and raise funds. Do they make
great leaders in the sense of building a great institution, build a
sustainable team and excel in operations, as well as they do in
advocacy? Not always it seems. That’s why the sector seems to need
a combination of the roles of ’cause leader’ and an ‘operational

Inherent self-confidence developed from background,
wealth related security, family related emotional security and
moorings is the base. On that are mounted experiences; often
experiences are shaped in ones mind by the way upbringing has allowed
those to be perceived. Does training help? Yes it would if the base
is capable enough – not otherwise. So some people who have the
right characteristics and the passion may be groom-able and polished.
But is passion or sensitivity or basic value systems trainable? I am
not at all certain. Managers are trainable, leadership skills can
only be polished. At any rate the modern organization, unlike Devsec,
is clearly uncomfortable with “leaders”. It wants efficient team
persons who can deliver. Not independent visionaries- the story of
Steve Jobs is a demonstration!

Kumar, Head, Communication & Strategic Initiatives, CHILDLINE
India Foundation

is a national, ‪24×7‬, free, ‪emergency‬, phone ‪outreach‬
service (1098) for children in need of care and protection, linking
them to long term rehabilitation.


one is born a leader! You have to learn and practice and develop your
skills through experience.

from when I was very young I attended YMCA summer camps. At camp we
were given A LOT of leadership responsibilities and I was able to
experience my first big leadership failures. My first big failure was
directing my canoe group about 10 kms off course towards the wrong
island. This was a big and real life failure that I and my whole team
had to pay for by not having dinner until very very late at night. 

was my first (hardly last) leadership “wrong turn”. And
that time and every time since, it has been about:

seeing the mistake (self awareness)

turning the map the right way up (flexibility)

starting again (resilience) or in that case 10 km behind where we
started in the first place.

have a phase I say to myself, “burn it to the ground”, only
to myself, not out loud, I don’t want to sound crazy. Because
sometimes you fail – not a little bit but a whole lot, and you have
to start all over again.

me “Burning it to the ground” is what leadership is all
about. As a leader you have to be the one to light the match and to
lead your team in starting again.

Ellen Matsui, Executive Director, Atma

empowers grassroots education NGOs to become bigger, better &


personally believe it’s a misconception that leaders are born,
there is no hard evidence to support that it is genetic. Excluding
birth defects and trauma, we all have the same faculties to exploit.
Hence I reckon it has a lot to do with environmental factors that
affect the individual. What I mean by these “factors” is –
Practice, feedback, role models, coaching, support and recognition-
all external factors that “make” a leader! There may be many
great people who are born every day that have the potential to be
fantastic leaders but might never grow up in the environment that
enables them to realize their potential.

are also countless instances of individuals being “thrown”
into a leadership role- someone who entrusted him/her with an
opportunity that was bigger than his or her ability at the time of
the opportunity, so s/he took upon him/herself to learn and advance
and become a leader. A
great example comes from the bible when Moses saw himself as someone
not worthy of the task of leading the people out of Egypt but
ultimately went on to be recorded in the bible as the greatest leader
-Visionary, passionate, persistent, patient.

can be developed over time. It is essentially about understanding
other people and more importantly about understanding yourself. Just
having the traits is not enough but much “application” is also
needed. A
tea vendor with humble beginnings, described as “an average
student” by teachers, belonging to the OBC category went on to
become a Prime Minister not because he was a born leader but by
slowly and gradually working his way to the top through hard work and
dedication. In
conclusion I would say, Leaders are certainly made and on a lighter
note- maybe they are born to be made!

Pingle, Senior Manager, EPJCC, AJDC, India

helps with life saving work for the needy and elderly and also
involved in community enrichment efforts. 

We welcome your views, Are Leaders born or Made?



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